Wine: Can it ever be healthy?
The pop of a cork, the unmistakable sound of a glass filling with wine, the expectation of the first sip. There is almost a ceremony around feeling a cool Sauvignon Blanc, or a hearty Merlot slide down your throat. For many, a glass or two, or three, is associated with pleasure and celebration. It’s also the stress relief needed after a long day with the kids or at work.
Wine is touted as a killer, or a saviour depending on what you read. So what’s actually going on in your glass?
The wine story
My interest in wine and its health benefits came from Dr Philip Norrie, an esteemed doctor who spoke at a conference I attended. Man has consumed it for over 10,000 years. using it, medicinally for the past 5,000 years. In fact, the First Fleet used wine as a medicine to keep the convicts alive during the long voyage to Australia.
Over the years, wine consumption has shifted away from use as a medicinal aid toward consumption as a social lubricant, de-stressing aid, or used in celebration.
The glass half full
Can wine be healthy? The good news is that yes, there are suggested benefits in drinking it (either white or red) that include:
- Lowered risk of heart disease
- Lowered risk of strokes
- Consumption may lengthen life.
How does it work?
- Moderate amounts of alcohol increase levels of good cholesterol in the body. High levels of good cholesterol are associated with greater protection against heart and circulatory problems.
- Antioxidants found in wine can protect against disease. The main antioxidants are epicatechin, quercetin, and the polyphenol resveratrol. Antioxidants offset the damage caused by free radicals, the damaging molecules that contribute to diseases such as cancer, dementia, diabetes and vascular disease.
But, before you top up that wine glass in celebration, be aware that these benefits are found when a wine is drunk in moderation.
Moderation, in this case, is around 2 to 3 drinks. That is 2 to 3 standard drinks, which is between 200 and 300ml. This is not a lot when an average glass of wine in a restaurant can serve between 150 and 200ml.
The glass half empty
Of course, with everything we eat or drink, too much can be a bad thing. Anyone who has experienced too much wine knows very well some of the negatives associated with over-consumption!
In the short term (that is, on the occasion when drinking), more than 4 standard drinks put someone at a high risk of injury related to alcohol. Think, being involved in a fight, misjudging steps, or falling as examples.
When we drink alcohol, our willpower and self-control are reduced, meaning that second slice of pizza looks more appealing than it would do otherwise. Eating more when drinking alcohol is common, and as alcohol is high in kilojoules, you can quickly consume extra kilojoules, putting you off-course from your health plans. Not to mention the fact that drinking alcohol interrupts the sleep cycle, resulting in feeling tired the next day (making the planned gym visit less enticing). Finally, after a big night, greasy, fatty food is often the go-to meal to treat a sore head and tummy, further pushing us away from our health goals.
In the long term (that is, drinking frequently over a long period), alcohol can lead to increased risk of the following:
- A number of cancers (including breast, mouth, throat and lung)
- High blood pressure
- Mental illness
- Diseases of the liver
The final sip
Wine can be a poison or a preventative – the caveat here is the amount and frequency drunk. Occasionally, drinking alcohol within recommended limits poses no significant risk to your health, unless you are pregnant or have been advised to avoid or limit it for health reasons. Wine may even have some benefits, as already mentioned.
However, it’s ensuring that moderation doesn’t end up being a bottle or more. In which case there is the associated health risks, cost, added kilojoules and negative effects in terms of poor sleep, less healthy food choices and subsequent low energy levels.
If you enjoy it, buy the best you can afford, mindfully pour a glass and savour each sip. Enjoy the experience and drink not to get drunk. Aim to have at least two alcohol-free days every week. Minimise the times when excessive amounts are drunk to reduce health risks.
Cheers to that!